Blogmas 2019 · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Scruffle-Nut by Corinne Fenton. Illustrated by Owen Swan.

Review: Scruffle-Nut by Corinne Fenton. Illustrated by Owen Swan.

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An elderly lady visits the park every day to remember her childhood. 

She remembers walking through the park with Nanny Clementine. She remembers the carousel and statues, and the bullies who would poke fun at her on her way home. Most of all she remembers Scruffle-Nut – the little squirrel with the stumpy tail. 

In her mind, the elderly lady is a little girl again. She’s coping with bullies of her own, so when she sees the other squirrels ganging up on one who looks more vulnerable, she makes a special point of feeding him. Every day she returns until winter drives the squirrels out of the cold. 

A nostalgic and beautiful story about childhood, bullying and time. 

The idea that we might be elderly is a strange one to young children, as is the idea that elderly people were once small. Understanding that our formative years go a large way to making us the person we are helps young readers to relate to the elder people around them. It also helps to understand that the elderly once experineced the same things we are going through now. Adults can, unintentionally, trivialise the everyday experiences of the young, so it is important for young readers to see that adults understand younger lives on some level. 

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My favourite part of this story was the girl’s bond with Scrufffle-Nut. The bonds we make with animals in childhood are important and teach us so much about life. By watching Scruffle-Nut hold his head up around the stronger squirrels, the protagonist learns new approaches to her own situation. 

The illustrations remind me a little of Raymond Briggs. Not in style so much as in tone. The faint colours of the landscape and buildings make them appear as if they have blown in from the remote past, while the girl herself, and her immediate concerns, are bolder and brighter.

This story is a winner because people of all ages will find something in it and it will grow with readers in the same way as books like The Snowman by Raymond Briggs or Grandpa by John Burningham. A beautiful book to share over the holidays and certainly a story to treasure. 

 

Thanks to New Frontier Publishing for my copy of Scruffle-Nut. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Meerkat Christmas by Emily Gravett.

Review: Meerkat Christmas by Emily Gravett.

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Sunny the meerkat of Meerkat Mail fame is back on another globe-trotting adventure.

A magazine arrives at the meerkat burrow advertising the most perfect Christmas ever. It comes complete with a checklist of what is essential to day. Dissatisfied with his family plans, Sunny packs his case and sets out into the wide world.

This story follows a similar format to the original book, with Sunny sending cards home from the different places he visits, except that this time they are Christmas cards. Emily Gravett’s books are always stellar on design and detail and this is no exception. Every Christmas card is a pleasure to open and half the excitement is in seeing what kind of card Sunny will send next. There are cracker jokes littered around the pages (on those white and red slips which seem to be so universal). I love books like this where the main illustrations are complimented by a jigsaw puzzle of things to spot.

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As for the story, I can’t think of a better theme for 2019. Aren’t we all feeling a little mediocre? Social media has given us many good things but we have also fallen prey to measuring ourselves up to posed Instagram pictures and planned out blog posts. Never mind that it took over an hour to set up the photograph. Sometimes it feels like everyone around us has neater bookselves and more beautiful homes and the picture-perfect Christmas.

Sunny finds out that what makes Christmas perfect isn’t the decorations or wrapping paper.

This book is a joy, from Sunny’s Christmas jumper to the excitement of opening the little cards. A fitting follow-up to a popular book and a timely reminder that sometimes we have to look a little closer to home – at what matters to us – to find perfection.

 

Thanks to Macmillan Children’s UK for my copy of Meerkat Christmas. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: My Naughty Little Sister And Father Christmas by Dorothy Edwards. Illustrated by Shirley Hughes.

Review: My Naughty Little Sister And Father Christmas by Dorothy Edwards. Illustrated by Shirley Hughes.

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Do you know what my Naughty Little Sister did? 

This refrain is known and cherished by four generations of readers. The My Naughty Little Sister books, originally published in the 1950s, are very much of their era but they are still loved for two reasons – they are short but witty stories perfect for bedtime and they hold a certain nostalgia for childhood as it actually was. Not where everything went perfectly and everyone had a lovely time but where any given day was almost bound to end in tears and tantrums. And that was OK because everyone made up again by teatime. 

The narrator of My Naughty Little Sister gives nothing away about her own misdemeanors. Instead, she focuses on the highs and lows of living with a younger sibling. Perhaps that is a third reason that the books are so popular because elder children who have outgrown their pre-school tantrums need somewhere to turn to feel that they are not alone. I wouldn’t know. You would have to ask my own big sister. 

Naughty is a word which is, today, thankfully used only to describe behaviour and not individual children. That is the big twist in the tale – the younger child here isn’t naughty at all. She is just prone to moments of naughtiness which add drama to every outing. In My Naughty Little Sister And Father Christmas, for example, her worst actions stem from a fear of Father Christmas. He is the big unknown, told to her in stories, and meeting him in person proves too much. 

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At least for a little while. Father Christmas turns out to be as lovely as everybody always said and the story ends happily ever after. 

What makes the story work so well is how beautifully behaved the little sister is through most of the tale. She smiles and claps and sings more beautifully than any of the other children. With her little pig-tails and rosy cheeks, it is hard to imagine her capable of a bad thought. The reader, knowing how these stories go, waits in anticipation for the big moment when her behaviour slides. Just how terrible can a small child be?

These long-treasured books are made more popular by Shirly Hughes’s illustrations. Hughes is a legendary artist best-known for her pictures of everyday life in all its happy mayhem and warmth. Her pictures are relatable across a class-divide which is her other big draw. The children playing out or singing together could be from any neighborhood. 

A classic loved by parents and grandparents is now available in picturebook format. This will be gifted straight to my sister, who listened to the stories with me over and over … and remembered my own misdemeanors more than hers. 

 

Thanks to Egmont UK LTD for my copy of My Naughty Little Sister And Father Christmas. Opinions my own.

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Santa’s Christmas Handbook by Christopher Edge. (Assorted Illustrators).

Review: Santa’s Christmas Handbook by Christopher Edge. (Assorted Illustrators).

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It’s a big job being Santa. 

With Sleigh regulations and weather forecasting and present selection all coming under the job title, it takes more than a little training to pull off the Christmas Eve dash. Santa’s Christmas Handbook is available to help and, for the first time, he is sharing it with everyone else. 

Filled with fun facts and information about Santa’s job, this book quickly gets readers thinking and dreaming. How exactly does Santa avoid collisions with aeroplanes? Whereabouts in the Sleigh does he store his lunch – not to mention food for the reindeer? Knowing more about Santa’s work will soon get readers asking questions of their own, and chances are they can be answered by the handbook. 

With flaps, puzzles, games, and pop-ups, this is a beautiful gift-book. Just opening the front cover feels exciting. 

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Not only is this the perfect Christmas Eve book, it will give little – and big – people who are excited about Christmas a place to turn to during the build-up. This is especially handy for anyone who has explained for the tenth time that they just don’t know how all the presents fit in the sleigh.

Full-colour illustrations and backgrounds make this feel magical and interesting, while smaller black-and-white line-drawings are used to great effect to reproduce the information (details pictures of drinks to look out for in living rooms, for example). The range of illustration styles makes this a richer and more interesting book and the team of illustrators (Tim Hutchinson, Richard Johnson, Maggie Kneen, Sandy Nightingale, and Mike Phillips) have worked together to produce something special. 

This has been a big hit in my family (with not-so-little readers). I had barely taken it out of the delivery box before two other people had put in a bid for it. Although similar books have appeared before, the big draw here is in using a talented and established writer. Christopher Edge has got all the facts, and he has made the book not only informative but just plain fun. It would be a lovely book to share and enjoy together and it is the sort of title which will come out year after year. 

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Flip Flap Frozen by Axel Scheffler.

Review: Flip Flap Frozen by Axel Scheffler.

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What kind of creatures will you find today?

Could it be a reindeer with two antlers on its head? Or might it be a narwhal with mottled white skin? Or could it be a reinwhal with antlers and mottled white skin? Flip the flaps to make whole new animals and giggle along to the rhymes. The wonderful series that is Flip Flap is back, and this time it has a frozen theme. 

The premise is simple. Every double-page spread has an illustration, a rhyme, and a name running horizontally down the side of the left-hand page. Each of these is split over two flaps so that they can be changed with other animals. 

Polar Bears and Penguins. Wolverines and Walruses. You never know who you might meet in the snow. 

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I first encountered Flip Flap Farm as a bookseller in 2014. It was a mega-hit with younger children and won a smile from people of all ages. Then Flip Flap Jungle appeared and it got exactly the same reaction. From that experience I can tell you that the books win on several counts – the animals are drawn with Axel Scheffler’s usual attention to expression, the mix-up of names and illustrations causes great amusement and the books are just lovely things to hold. Both the flaps and the book size have been designed with smaller hands in mind. 

It is no wonder this series has had a big success. 

Attention to detail makes this even more user-friendly. The animal illustrations and names down the sides of the page share the same colour background. This means that readers who are looking to find real animals can flip through very easily even if they don’t know the word they are looking for. 

Funny, brilliant to share and a great introduction to new animals, Flip Flap Frozen will be loved by many this Christmas. Just look out for that Wolverfin – he can chase you over water as well as on land. 

 

Thanks to Nosy Crow for my copy of Flip Flap Frozen. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Alice’s Wonderland Tea Party by Poppy Bishop and Laura Brenlla.

Review: Alice’s Wonderland Tea Party by Poppy Bishop and Laura Brenlla.

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Alice wants to host the perfect tea party. Not a party with tricks and jokes. Not an upside down party with upside down cake. Just a perfectly ordinary perfect party. Unfortunately, Wonderland specialises in the extraordinary.

The tea party scene is one of the most famous from across Lewis Caroll’s works. With more than a little help from Walt Disney, whose Very Merry Unbirthday song is memorably catchy, the Hatter’s Tea Party has proved to be an enduring legend. What we often forget is Alice’s frustration as she searches frantically for the stable and ordinary.

Hosting a tea party in Wonderland is quite a challenge. With magic and mayhem around every corner, the residents must be a tricky bunch to impress. In this story, while Alice’s efforts are thwarted, the residents pull together to produce a party which nobody will forget. The book introduces some of our favourite Wonderland characters – from the Hatter and the Hare to characters from the original text like the Duchess. Alice In Wonderland is one of those stories which is so popular that readers are likely to know about it before they ever encounter the book and enjoyable picture books like this bring Wonderland to life. 

The themes will be relatable to many, especially at this time of year when sometimes we just want to organise things without other people and their not-so-great ideas getting in the way. Learning to compromise – and finding space to share our own ideas – can be a difficult balance. This story teaches us that, frustrating though other people can be, their ideas can bring a new and unexpected type of magic. 

The design is superb too, with flaps of every shape and size and cut-out details. The illustrations strike a balance between the quirky and the cute, making characters seem out of this world without being at all scary. Likewise, there is a mix of pastel and navy backgrounds. 

This will be a hit with fans of Wonderland and with anyone who has ever felt the frustration of other people being anything other than perfect. 

 

Thanks to Little Tiger Press for my copy of Alice’s Wonderland Tea Party. Opinions my own.

illustrated · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland & Through The Looking Glass. Illustrated by MinaLima.

Review: Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland & Through The Looking Glass. Illustrated by MinaLima.

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‘What is the use of a book,’ thought Alice, ‘without pictures or conversation?’

Alice would, I feel certain, approve of this edition of her tale. There are pictures and graphics and a wealth of patterns. The Mina Lima classics range has become something of a cult hit in the book community and they also make the most beautiful Christmas presents known to bookish kind. 

MinaLima is a design studio based in London. Best known for their contribution to the Harry Potter films (look out for the Daily Prophets and Quibblers and Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes logo), their iconic style and meticulous attention to detail make their work instantly recognisable to their many fans. My favourite aspect is their distincitve use of pattern. 

What makes their work so suited to Alice In Wonderland? 

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Anyone who is familiar with previous editions of Alice will be aware that – with several ntoable exceptions – it is often perceived as a mildly scary story. Think of Tim Burton’s films or the seminal work of Sir John Tenniel. While the book is never portrayed as a horror, the darker side of Wonderland often comes out in the artwork. MinaLima’s editon builds on this with a sharp-clawed Cheshire Cat, thorned plants and the scariest card people since Tenniel’s edition. 

Interactive elements include fold-outs and tabs and lavishly-illustrated game boards. This is not only a book but a fully immersive Wonderland experience. 

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It is always a pleasure to revisit classic texts. Too often we think we are familiar with these stories because they have been retold and animated and become part of our pop-culture. Going back to the original prose teaches us more about the world than anything else ever could and a beautiful gift edition is a perfect reason to dive back into the story. 

I own the MinaLima Peter Pan and spent Christmas 2015 enthralled by the detail, and drinking in the story as a result. Alice In Wonderland & Through The Looking-Glass lives up to the high MinaLima standards and I expect it to be popular this holiday season. 

 

Thanks to Antonia Wilkinson PR and Harper Collins Publishers for my copy of Alice In Wonderland & Through The Looking-Glass (Illustrated by MinaLima). Opinions my own. 

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Greta And The Giants by Zoë Tucker and Zoë Persico.

Review: Greta And The Giants by Zoë Tucker and Zoë Persico.

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Her name was Greta. She lived in a beautiful forest filled with animals. The giants had always been there, but they had stopped caring about the forest. They chopped down the trees and built cities to generate money. Luckily Greta wasn’t daunted by their size. 

 For years everyone has known that the climate is in terrible peril but too many people have found it easy to wave this fact away rather than sacrifice their own comfort. It took one voice to remain strong. One person to point out – regardless of the response she met – that saving our world was more important than capitalism. 

And suddenly other people felt bold enough to join in. 

That person was, of course, Greta Thunberg, and she has become an icon not only for her generation but of our times. She and other young eco-warriors have moved the conversation about the climate crisis to a new level. 

It is what the politicians and major broadcasters and other giants of our world failed to do. 

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What Greta Thunberg proved was that if every small voice speaks a bit louder the world starts to listen. Her school strike hit adults where it hurt because they had to admit that, while the loss of education was a serious issue, the children had a valid and urgent message. Books like this one, aimed at young readers, remind us that no voice is too small to make a difference. Stand a little higher, shout a little louder and someone somewhere will listen. 

I am delighted to see books and media for children about environmental issues. I was fascinated by these issues at twelve or thirteen but there was nothing aimed at children or teenagers. It was too easy for my peers to dismiss something they only heard about in a couple of science or PSHE lessons. If children grow up with books that reflect what is happening, they will respond in a more positive and informed way than any previous generation. 

 The illustrations in this book are like a modern take on a traditional fairy tale anthology. With cooking pots and leafy forests and little people taking on the giants, this could be a tale as old as time. Except that it is happening here and now and there are some cities and bright modern raincoats to prove it. 

This story could be told over and over again until readers are familiar with its morals and that is what makes it stand out amongst the sudden rush of books about the environment. It is relatable and memorable and, although it is quick to tell, it raises some big issues which will take a lifetime to learn about. 

 

Thanks to Frances Lincoln Children’s Books (in association with Greenpeace) for my copy of Greta And The Giants. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Kindness Grows by Britta Teckentrup.

Review: Kindness Grows by Britta Teckentrup.

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Sometimes a crack grows between people. Maybe it began with a mean word, or anger, or a selfish gesture. It doesn’t matter. The point is, sometimes in life we experience damaged relationships. It can be difficult to know how to go forward. 

Kindness Grows uses metaphors – the crack caused by unkind actions and a tree that grows and flourishes when it is nurtured with kindness – to consider and compare the effect our actions can have on our relationships with other people. It uses double-page spreads to compare the crack on the left-hand page with the tree on the right. The basic principle is that healing begins with a kind action. 

With cutaway details and striking illustrations, this would be a lovely book to introduce readers to the concept that actions have consequences and that our relationships with other people depend on thinking about the way our behaviour might make them feel. 

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This book offers a very visual way to approach conversations about hurt and making up. Sometimes it can be hard to understand why another person is upset with us, and getting back to the root of our words and actions can help us to empathise with how they might be feeling. The same pattern which creates the crack on the left-hand pages becomes a tree trunk on the right. This offers a lovely way to help younger people think about hurt. They might begin by asking questions such as ‘is there a crack?’ ‘how did it appear?’ and ‘how do I turn it into something beautiful again?’  

The book looks at different scenarios, from refusing to play together to not working as a team and offers possible solutions on the right-hand side. It also touches on the possibility of a crack that can’t be mended – this would make an interesting discussion about how we can be certain of our own kindness and redirect it towards other parts of our life. 

A lovely book to help in those moments when we can’t figure out how a divide has grown between ourselves and another person. Remembering that kindness is the way forward is a beautiful place to start. 

 

 Thanks to Little Tiger Press for my copy of Kindness Grows. Opinions my own. 

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Wind In The Willows by Kenneth Grahame. Illustrated by Grahame Baker-Smith.

Review: The Wind In The Willows by Kenneth Grahame. Illustrated by Grahame Baker-Smith.

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‘…there is nothing – absolutely nothing half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.’ 

So begins the meeting between Mole and the Water Rat and one of the most famous scenes in children’s literature. Kenneth Grahame captured something idyllic and many people assume the book is a bit of light-hearted escapism. However, there is a threat to Ratty and Mole’s world. The weasels from the wild woods are encroaching on the Riverbank and unless Ratty and Mole can get the eccentric landowner to behave the days of messing about in boats may be lost for good. 

And so the other best-known part of the story is introduced – Mr Toad. 

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Mr Toad’s escapades and misadventures with caravans and race cars are so well known that even people who have never touched a copy of the original text can describe them. They have been played out on stage and on television and on the big screen and in school halls up and down the country. Everyone believes they know the story even if they have never read the book – and yet Kenneth Grahame’s prose is so beautiful, so effortlessly descriptive and gentle in its rhythm –  that it is a book everybody deserves to read. 

Many talented illustrators have produced an edition of the story, most notably Arthur Rackham, but I jumped up and down in excitement when I heard about this edition. Grahame Baker-Smith is a Kate Greenaway Medal-winning illustrator and his work captures the magic and mystery in the everyday. This comes into its own in illustrations of the Wild Woods and the River itself. 

There are illustrations in different styles – full-page colour illustrations which look almost like film concept art in their energy and sense of movement and smaller, sepia and similarly muted colour pictures at the head of or to the side of the text. The design is glorious too, with the ripples and willow branches of the end pages repeating at the chapter headings. 

Both the high quality of the illustration and the way this has been presented make it an edition to treasure. A beautiful copy of a classic which would make a beautiful present this holiday season. 

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame and Grahame Baker-Smith, published by Templar Books, is available now. 

Thanks to Templar Books and Antonia Wilkinson PR for my copy of the book.